In August 2019 we returned to Turkey, after fourteen years, for a more encompassing holiday in the part that's variously called Western Asia or the Middle East. There were iconic tourist places we had not seen so with a combination of flights and a rental car we hopped about the map in this very large country.
We began, as one does, in Istanbul.
Back in 2005 we'd spent a couple of weeks here and it was surprising how familiar the city still seemed - except that there are more competing tourists to contend with.
The traffic in the in central Istanbul is even worse that it was fourteen years ago and our cab, that had made good progress on the expressway from the airport, was soon reduced to a crawl through the inner streets. After coming to a virtual standstill for more than ten minutes our driver pulled over and helped us drag our bags over the last couple of blocks to our hotel.
Back in 2005, we'd quickly realised that a cheap hotel, recommended in a travel guide book, was horrendous and would sour the whole experience, and we quickly moved up-market. So we approached the three star 'And Hotel' with some trepidation. But our concern was unwarranted. We had a good sized room with a nice view over the nearby Hagia Sophia; a large comfortable bed; good linen; and a good, hot, plentiful, shower. Added bonuses included an excellent breakfast, coffee on the balcony; and attentive staff. It wasn't the Intercontinental but was generally the equivalent of the more expensive place we'd been obliged to move to last time, with the bonus of a change of scenery and locale
The Wi-Fi was fast but, as was the case everywhere we went in Turkey, a number of websites are blocked. Annoyingly these include Wikipedia. So it was often hard to confirm or deny 'facts' provided by guides about historical events, people, places (like the Basilica Cistern) and objects. TV is also censored. From a visitor's perspective TV is not wildly entertaining anyway - mainly consisting of game shows and cheaply made 'soaps' - in Turkish. As I noted nine years ago, notably absent, even by satellite from Europe, are programs about natural science. On the other hand Muslim Clerics, have several dedicated TV channels as do Fundamentalist/Creationist Christians. Flipping through the hundreds of channels, many of which report 'no signal', the principal change from 2010 is a big reduction in the number of channels inviting lonely men to ring in to satisfy topless and aroused... [add a girl's name here]. But there are still several, so I imagine the change is due to competition from the Internet, rather than a 'crackdown'.
Turkey is nominally secular, yet under President Erdogan religion is becoming more politically influential. While scarves and hajab are commonplace niqab and (full) burkas are less so. In tourist areas almost anything goes and it's quite common to see two women walking together, one demurely covered and the other sleeveless and wearing a short skirt and heels.
- top left: Ayasofya, top right: The Blue Mosque both as seen from the And Hotel
- bottom left: The Blue Mosque with zoom, bottom right - Ayasofya from the other side
Another advantage of the And Hotel is that it is a few steps away from the ancient (6th century) Basilica Cistern so we could easily pick a time when the crowd had died down. Once inside it doesn't matter what time it is - it's always midnight in there.
Istanbul has a number of ancient cisterns for water storage. The Basilica Cistern, is an amazing example of Roman engineering from around 550.
With 336 columns supporting a vaulted ceiling The Basilica Cistern covers over 2.4 acres (almost a hectare).
Several movies have been made here.
As we planned to be in Turkey for a couple more weeks, on the first morning we'd bought 15 day museum passes that allowed us to by-pass the long entry queues. These turned out to be both a time and mental health saving, allowing us to skip several seemingly endless entrance lines, and surprisingly, as we have usually lost money buying similar passes in other countries, they ended up saving us money too.
Yet a guy who sat down next to us, as we had coffee, insisted that tourist numbers were down. Obviously he was 'on the make' and opened the conversation with the familiar question: "Where are you from?... Mosman... Oh, I have a girlfriend who lives in Manly." [select a connection and suburb to match]. We soon divined that he was intent on luring us to his shop [the only income for his aged mother] but we were more interested in what he could tell us.
Given the enormous queue forming just down the square, waiting to get into the Ayasofya, where we had recently avoided a large crowd of people not unlike ourselves, I was just a little dubious. Adding to the crowds of people speaking numerous European tongues, and the ever present Japanese, there are now many more Asians: Chinese; Taiwanese; Korans; Singaporeans; and Indians.
Wendy took the opportunity to ask about the men who lead small bands of veiled women and children around the sights. Were these Turkish wives? Our new friend explained that since the 1908 Turks have been allowed but one wife. These men, 'given to uxorious excess' are not Turks but tourists from Saudi Arabia or the UAE or perhaps other Arab states like Iran or Iraq. He bemoaned the fact that there were fewer tourists like us these days - apparently these others are not great customers.
We still had surprisingly clear memories of what we'd done last time in Istanbul yet a few locations were somewhat changed.
The beautiful 'Blue Mosque', that we almost had to ourselves fourteen years ago, is now under renovation, hiding its magnificent dome, so we were very pleased to have seen it last time.
The Blue Mosque 2019 (above and middle) and 2005 (bottom)
On the other hand, the dome of the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), that was obscured by scaffolding last time, can now be seen again in all its glory, almost clear of scaffolding.
This time we were at last able to see the famous 33 meter diameter dome, that for much of the Current Era has been the second largest monolithic dome in the world (after the Pantheon in Rome - 43.3 m).
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) 2019
A church on this spot was, in effect, the first Christian church in the world, if one dates modern Christianity to its recasting, by order of Constantine I, as the new Roman religion. Burnt down twice it grew in size until the present cathedral was constructed by Justinian I commencing in 532. But the first dome was a failure and collapsed (sounds like a Sydney high-rise). A new engineer was engaged (Isidore the Younger) and his dome has lasted 1,400 years.
The famous 11th and 12th Century iconography
I spent quite a bit of time on the images here after our 2005 visit [Read more...] so I won't repeat myself.
Both buildings are now under siege by numerous tour groups - bustling after their guides in numerous different languages. After crowding into the corridors and galleries, necks bent back, they're off to the Topkapi Palace.
The most popular area for visitors is the Harem - the domestic part of the palace from which all were banned except the emperor's wives; concubines; prepubescent children; and servants/slaves, the males of whom were castrated, lest they sow their seed in the Emperor's exclusive domain. Again we'd 'been here and done that' but it was worth another visit and was effectively free as we already had a comprehensive museum pass.
Until 1856, when Dolmabahçe Palace completed, Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman Emperors
You can also read about the extraordinarily costly Dolmabahçe Palace by following to our last trip to Istanbul [Read more...]
Yet we'd not been to the Archaeological Museum and Museum of the Ancient Orient. they're within the walls of the Topkapi Palace down a moderately steep cobbled road that discourages tour groups, as guides try to avoid situations that might result in infarctions among their clients on the way back. Consequently it offers relief from the madding crowds.
The interesting collection goes back to the Palaeolithic with ceramics, bronze and iron marking the milestones of technological advance over the past ten millennia. There is also a particularly large collection of Roman sarcophagi (coffins) that in pre-Christian times facilitated one's passage to the next life. Like a Tesla carrying Major Tom (!).
I'm always reminded of Byron's epic poem 'Don Juan' in Turkey as the eponymous hero is hidden by several young women in the Ottoman Sultan's seraglio (harem) and elsewhere we learn the folly of post mortem arrangements in the hope of something more:
|What are the hopes of man? Old Egypt's King
Cheops erected the first pyramid
And largest, thinking it was just the thing
To keep his memory whole, and mummy hid;
But somebody or other rummaging,
Burglariously broke his coffin's lid:
Let not a monument give you or me hopes,
Since not a pinch of dust remains of Cheops
from Don Juan
Top right: Sidamara Sarcophagus from Ambararasi Roman period, 2nd half of 3rd century AD
Sidamara was an ancient city in Asia Minor (now Konya in Turkey)
Bottom left: Assyrian King Shalmaneser III
Bottom right: A winged human-headed Apkallu holding a bucket and a pine cone from Nimrud, Iraq. 883-859 BCE.
Apkallu were pre-Deluge demi-gods, sometimes described as part man and part fish, associated with human wisdom.
Since our visit to Armenia where Mt Ararat dominates the horizon over the capital, Yerevan [Read more...], I've become more interested in the Biblical Flood myth. Mt Ararat is not in Armenia but over the nearby border in Turkey, so commenting here is appropriate. The Apkallu above is related to this myth via the Epic of Gilgamesh (c.1800 BCE) that incorporates the earliest of four recorded middle eastern flood myths, complete with an Arc and birds carrying twigs. Some archaeologists believe that these Deluge myths stem from a massive flood, suggested by overlying mud deposits, that devastated ancient Mesopotamia including ancient Kish (see the link above), now in Azerbaijan, around 2900 BCE when it was one of the few places of civilisation on Earth. At that time the climate was warming after widespread glaciation in the north. Perhaps the 'deluge' resulted from the collapse of an ice dam in the Caucuses Mountains or overtopping of the Caspian sea.
The myth of Noah is the most recent version of these recorded Deluge myths. It seems to have been incorporated into the Jewish Torah during the Second Temple period (c.500 BCE) as it's notable that the description of the ark has similarities to the design of Solomon's Temple. And the ancient myth no doubt became familiar to Jews living in Babylon during The Exile (c. 597-537 BCE). In other changes in the biblical version, around 20 gods have been reduced to one and the flood now lasts for either 150 days (Genesis 7:24) or 40 days (Genesis 7:17), up from one week in Gilgamesh. This is first of many such biblical contradictions, suggesting multiple authors and dates of composition.
After the snake that seduces Eve (also borrowed from Gilgamesh) the Deluge is the next occasion in which the concept of one all-powerful God becomes a challenge for the Torah authors. Surely they've snuck in another evil god? Similarly attempting to deal with the causes of a natural disaster in the context of a single god all-powerful yet caring God poses challenges. No longer can one god want to destroy these annoying humans and another want to save them - now the One God decides that his creation has failed and needs to be eradicated but in a change of heart notices that Noah's family are worth saving and relents. He's like Shiva - destroyer and saviour in one.
In addition to Flood myth and several other elements in Genesis, many verses in Ecclesiastes are taken, sometimes almost verbatim (Eccl 9:7-9), from Gilgamesh. Elsewhere, as I've mentioned elsewhere, the Bible paraphrases ancient Egyptian prayers and myths.
Thus the ancients were just as imaginative, creative and eclectic as Tolkien and AJ Rowling, possibly more so.
For Wendy no visit to Istanbul would be complete without at least one visit to the Grand Bazaar. They have a reputation for hard bargaining - she loves that. We walked the kilometre or so there and back and Wendy came away with a new light weight leather coat at a very competitive price.
The Grand Bazaar - bargaining capital of the world
After a brief three days in Istanbul our next stop was Cappadocia.
Cappadocia, is a semi-arid region in central Turkey that's renowned for its beauty. Its uniqueness stems from vast fields of pumice-dominated volcanic deposits that cover tens of thousands of square kilometres and are up to 2 kilometres thick. This volcanism persisted here for around 50,000 years about 15 million years ago and resulted from the collision of the Eurasian, African and Arabian tectonic plates, crushing the Anatolian Plate. This collision is ongoing and Turkey remains tectonically active, with periodic earthquakes and eruptions.
This ash and pumice has been both compacted and eroded leaving spectacular and unusual geological features. The deposits vary in hardness, so that when eroded by the elements, harder caps may sit atop softer rocks that are thus compacted by the heavy cap and thus resist erosion, forming a column below. Similar 'hoodoo' can be seen elsewhere in the world, for example in Utah in the US, but here they are the world's most numerous and the most unusual.
Our hotel room was carved out of the hillside and the restaurant and public areas above offered great views across the valley - complete with hot air balloons - sadly all booked out - no rising above it all for us.
Azure Cave Suites - Cappadocia
But we took a hotel sponsored guided tour in a small bus and the following day with a driver and encountered numerous other similar groups, each with a guide. I was intrigued to hear the various guides' competing versions of how the valleys and the chimneys were formed. I've since discovered, thanks to Wikipedia, when it became available, that from time to time the area has been glaciated and a small glacier persists on one of the volcanoes in the area. So no doubt both ice and melt water has been a contributor to both temporary lake formation and to the erosion in general.
A valley lookout - but how was it formed?
No matter, as long as the evil eye doesn't get you
Ever since the Neolithic Period the soft rocks of Cappadocia have been dug into by humans. Sometime, during the past twenty thousand years, people were driven by: the need for shelter; changed environmental conditions; conflict; or religion to begin burrowing into the soft rock.
At one stage entire troglodyte communities seem to have evolved underground. Then like hermit crabs, that inhabit convenient dwellings created by others, a succession of later communities occupied and further developed the early underground chambers. It seems that in more peaceful times the chambers nearer the surface were used for winemaking.
The tunnels would be OK if you were short. For us banged heads made them problematic
Bottom right is one of the wine making vats
In the bronze and early iron age (1200-600 BCE) Cappadocia had a dominant Zoroastrian community and was known for its many fire temples. But in due course it was conquered by the Byzantine Christians (Eastern Romans) who are thought to have persecuted the older religion perhaps driving them underground. Then, with the advance of Islam it was the Christians who went underground to shelter from Arab raiders. During the Ottoman period the Christians settled-in for the long haul, setting up many churches and even a large convent in the cliff-sides. Cave-houses of a more conventional, domestic kind, also became a norm where, with essentially modern iron tools, it's relatively easy to carve out a dwelling in the cliff-side or in a hoodoo.
Remnants of Byzantine Christian occupation
In the 19th century the increasing exploitation of Armenian Christians as slaves became a matter international condemnation. Rather than grant the slaves their freedom Sultan Abdul Hamid II granted impunity to killing squads who went on a rampage eliminating the problem. He met his demise in 1908 when the Young Turks overthrew the Sultanate and established a short lived parliamentary democracy. This soon collapsed in upsurge in Turkish nationalism and populism leading to the virtual dictatorial rule of the 'Three Pashas'. Anti-Christian sentiment was at the heart of this populism and in 1915 the State rounded up and murdered 1.5 million Armenian Christians - see our visit to the Genocide Museum. Then in 1923 a Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations was negotiated with Greece and 1.2 million Orthodox Christians were involuntarily rounded up and exchanged for around 400 thousand Greek Muslims.
Hitler thought this was an excellent idea. He too had already expelled many German Jews, to Palestine and elsewhere in Europe, before invading Poland in consort with his mate Stalin. As he told his generals, the week before the invasion, don't hesitate to kill the (non-German speaking) Poles (now interpreted to mean Jews): 'Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?' (Who still speaks today about the annihilation of the Armenians?)
Needless to say, our guide did not tell us about this. He told us instead that the Christians had built the entire underground village to hide from the Romans. But when questioned about how they had accomplished all this in so short a time he got confused over the dates*. Obviously not a wine drinker, when showing us the fermentation basins, he explained that the cave-dwellers needed to make wine to keep warm.
He also asserted that the oil lamps they used employed a special oil that did not consume oxygen when burnt. To be fair, it's hard for these guides to fact check - they have no Wikipedia in Turkey - and goodness knows what they are taught in school. Excessive popular access to actual facts might raise awkward questions in all sorts of areas - fake news abounds.
*State sanctioned persecution of Christians by the Romans lasted 65 years. It began with an edict by Trajan in 250 and ended with Constantine in 315, earlier persecutions were a result of campaigns against Jews in general, not just Christianised Jews, as an outcome of the Roman-Jewish wars.
A few in our group were sceptical but most were lapping it up, except when he peppered this commentary with obvious flights of fancy, involving ancient mobile phones and so on. He reminded me of the scene in Slumdog Millionaire where Jamal, the eponymous slum-dog, becomes a self-appointed guide at the Taj Mahal, inventing hilarious nonsense for gullible tourists.
Today, as with Jews in Poland, there are few remaining Christians in Cappadocia. Now the ruined Christian churches are preserved not as places of worship but as heritage sites to amuse tourists and in several places to provide exercise - due to the hiking, climbing and scrambling required to reach them.
This is known as Love Valley. I didn't have to ask why.
The young woman on the seat was not looking at me but at her partner beside me. I took them to be newly weds. I'd waited for him to leave the seat to get a clear shot framed by the heart. But after numerous poses, as he straddled the seat and she took the pictures, he jumped up and she sat down and took various poses. So I ran out of patience. They were determined to carefully incorporate elements of the scenery into their compositions - you get the idea - not vey Islamic!
Turkey is a big country and because of its remoteness we had flown to Cappadocia rather than drive (over 600k) there and then back (over 500k) to Antalya.
Arriving in Antalya by plane we picked up a car at the airport for the remainder of our trip in Turkey.
Antalya is an ancient, once fortified, town on the Adriatic. It's now Turkey's premier tourist destination on the stretch of the Mediterranean known as the Turkish Riviera.
We chose to stay in the old city and this turned out to be an immediate problem for our car. The hotel promised parking but, as we arrived after the entrance was closed, we couldn't get in. After some harrowing attempts at finding a portal and half a dozen laps of the same traffic jammed streets, thanks to Tom-tom and Google Maps, we finally gave up and parked outside then trundled our big bags, through noisy crowds of partying youngsters, to the hotel. At the time it seemed we were living a nightmare. Fortunately, like all nightmares, it evaporated with the morning.
We set about exploring.
The old town has remnants of the ancient city still intact, including parts of the walls and Hadrian's Gate that goes back to when this was an important Roman naval and trading port. A statue of Attalus II Philadelphus stands in a square overlooking the harbour proclaiming him to be the founder of the city in 158 BCE but there is archaeological evidence that there was already a town here when it was taken by Attalus for the Hellenistic (Greek) Kingdom of Pergamon. It didn't remain in Greek hands for very long because in 133 BCE it was bequeathed to the Roman Republic and remained an important Roman port city through early Christianity and the Byzantine period.
In the eastern wall of the old city is Hadrian's Gate and Tower, built in 131-2 CE in honour of the Roman Emperor who was soon to visit
It fell into disrepair and was restored in 1961-2, in honour of tourism.
Below right: A plaque advises us that Antalya was founded as a strategic port in 158 BCE by Attalos II of Pergamon
He's imagined here in bronze not very practically dressed, apparently dedicating one hand to holding up his toga.
He named it ATTALEIA! - assuming that wasn't his exclamation when he inadvertently let go and his toga fell down.
In 1206 the city was besieged by the Seljuk Turks for 16 days and survived but the following year it was overrun. Yet Byzantine traditions continued even after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The predominantly Greek city was then progressively Turkified with the principle Christian Byzantine churches and basilica converted to Mosques and the population ghettoised - occupying different quarters according to their origins and religions.
Fast forward over 700 years. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed during the First World War (1914-18) the city fell again to the Italians (Romans again?). But in 1924 was reclaimed by Turkey as a result of the Turkish War of Independence, led by Atatürk. As mentioned elsewhere in the late 19th and early 20th century Turkey systematically rid itself of non-Muslims. There seems to be an ethnic as well as a religious preoccupation. Today Turkey has a problem with its Kurdish ethnic minority who are predominantly Muslim. So although almost everyone is extremely friendly I'm not sure what they really think of us tourists.
Today Antalya's urban population is around 1.2 million but the city receives over ten times that number of tourists a year so around every second person is a tourist. Several people we spoke to in popular places complained about tourists in general, ignoring the fact that we were part of the problem. Face-to-face most people in every country we travel to go out of their way to be friendly. I like to think the others are just having a bad day.
Antalya has several very good museums. A private museum (museum pass not accepted) in an old house adjacent to a one-time church explores historical culture. It has an interesting collection of mainly 20th century household artefacts and several historically furnished rooms, complete with historically dressed mannequins.
In addition to the church that is now a museum we dropped into a mosque that was once a church. Apart from tourists there is not much call for churches as there are no longer a lot of resident Christians.
New uses for churches now that there aren't a lot of Christians
The principal Antalya archaeological museum has a marvellous collection of classical marble statues sarcophagi; coins and treasures. Yet another has anthropological finds going back to the Neanderthal. Tools found indicate that that our much more ancient cousins treated and sewed hides to make clothing. There are also artefacts from our own Palaeolithic past through the firing of pottery then smelting metals - bronze and then iron. How clever were these people!
Iron Age back through bronze and ceramic beakers to prehistoric imaginings - possibly Neanderthal
What gods were here then?
In addition to these there are several private 'museums' in historic houses, one in which Atatürk once resided described as a replica, but we didn't get to the bottom of that as it was closed.
The harbour, about the size of Mosman Bay in Sydney Harbour, is similarly picturesque. It was once the busiest ancient port on this coast, but today it's too small for anything larger than the occasional super-yacht. This is a very active tectonic region and it's possibly been upthrust since Roman times, like Wellington Harbour in New Zealand, or siltation, like the ancient city of Ephesus along the coast, that's lost its harbour altogether - more of that later.
More Antalya with a hint of the trams - I omitted to take pictures when in the city proper - just the pretty parts
Outside of the old city walls the urban landscape is like many other modern cities, with flats and other dwellings and the familiar fast food outlets. In Antalya trams, like many cities in Turkey, add to the traffic chaos.
Leaving Antalya along the coast promised to be more interesting than the inland (highway) route favoured by the tour busses. Our rental car was a 6 speed diesel Ford Focus - ideal for the narrow, winding hilly tracks and high speed expressways we would encounter thanks to TomTom (our trusty GPS navigator of the world's roads) guiding our way.
Our next overnight stop along the coast was to be at Kaş, a drive of 200 kilometres to the west. But some 20 kilometres before arriving we would pass the famed 'sunken city' at Kekova that's billed as one of the region's main tour attractions. Rather than approaching from Kaş like the tour groups do we would call in on the way taking a 'shortcut' along the coast. Yet we found ourselves travelling inland on narrow country lanes through what seemed to be hundreds of acres of empty greenhouses of the kind used for growing tomatoes. But why were they all empty? Are greenhouse tomatoes seasonal? Later, I looked on-line:
Turkey has the fifth largest area of greenhouses in the world, the majority of them in the Antalya region. They have a wide range of uses from growing flowers to fruit (like strawberries) and vegetables (like tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and eggplants). But why did they seem to be empty - are these crops seasonal? Maybe they are grown in open fields at this time of year?
Anyway, we were making for the seaside village of Üçağız and this vast agricultural factory-farm area felt like a long way from the sea. There were trucks and tractors and lots of farm structures but no obvious signage pointing to a harbour. Was out TomTom lost? Another block of greenhouses loomed - déjà vu. Finally we turned onto a better road. Then, cresting a ridge, the coastline appeared and in the distance we saw dozens of green and brown islands set in brilliant blue water. It was quite spectacular.
On the way into Kekova
Descending steeply through a scrubby, rocky landscape to the village we were immediately embroiled in traffic, including dozens of tour busses. Just as we were contemplating giving up a helpful man directed us to an empty car parking spot in a side street. He turned out to be a tout for a small boat operator who would take us to the 'sunken city' for an outrageous fee. Did we want to see a sunken city that badly? We negotiated a marginally better price and eventually decided to do it.
It was a good decision. It was a wonderful afternoon. The weather was perfect for a boat ride and the tour of the ancient remnants turned out to be interesting, even though the 'sunken city' is way oversold. 'Sunken couple of walls' might be a better description. Yet the combined experience turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip.
The town that can only be reached by water; many abandoned sarcophagi; and an underwater wall
It was time to drive to Kaş in time to check-in to our hotel and get ready for the evening.
Kaş is a small town near or on the site of the ancient city of Antiphellos. It has a particularly pretty harbour. It's beloved by yachties, 'grey nomads', who cruise the Mediterranean in floating versions of the vans that traverse inland and coastal Australia. Apparently it's possible to spend weeks moored in Kaş on a shoestring. At dinner we met a couple who were doing just that - leading an idyllic life - living on their yacht and eating-out at the same harbour-side restaurant we'd chosen. It was easy to understand our yachty friends' preference. Kaş has fewer tourists and is, on the whole, a much nicer and less expensive place to spend an evening by the harbour than at Antalya.
Kaş a pretty town with a popular harbour for yachties and the ruins of Antiphellos, a Greco-Roman city up the hill.
Like many ancient towns Antiphellos had a Greco-Roman theatre and the ruins remain a short distance from the Kaş town centre. Indeed until 1923 Kaş was a small island of Greek culture. Then, as I mentioned above, there was exchange of Muslim and Christian populations between Greece and Turkey. So the town's Orthodox Christian population was expelled to Greece leaving a majority of the dwellings abandoned. The town has since recovered but it's still struggling economically - except for the yachties. As a result our hotel was good value too.
The coastal road, heading west out of Kaş, is quite spectacular winding along the cliff-side with the sea to the left. From time to time the two lane road becomes almost impassable due to beachgoers parking in both directions on the roadsides, before making their way down, out-of-sight, to the beaches below.
The ancient city of Xanthos was on our way. This was once an important Lycian centre conquered by the Persians and then by Alexander the Great, after which it became Hellenised.
It was later occupied by the Romans and in due course became the seat of a Byzantine bishopric. After Constantinople fell to the Turks in the 15th century it declined and was eventually abandoned. Most of the ruins, including the theatre, are from the Roman/Byzantine period, although a small Greek temple from here is in the British Museum. The site is now under desultory restoration, no doubt with tourism in mind so we can expect a demand for the return of the temple.
The ruins of the ancient city of Xanthos - under restoration one stone at a time - Rome wasn't built in a day
Our next overnight stop, chosen as a suitable waypoint before Ephesus, was Fethiye, another yachty hangout.
After a good fast expressway the traffic in Fethiye itself came to a standstill. We could have walked the last four kilometres to the 'Alesta Yacht Hotel' more quickly.
Wendy was more enamoured of the town than I was. It's quite modern and the town centre is more like a giant shopping mall than a village. But the hotel, adjacent to and overlooking the Marina, is excellent and a good choice for an overnight stop with a good breakfast.
The restaurant balcony at the 4-star Alesta Yacht Hotel - Fethiye
Selçuk is a nice little town with a number of pleasant places to eat dinner in the shadow of the ancient aqueduct that still stands, romantically floodlit at night.
It's the nearest town to the ruins of ancient Ephesus, three kilometres away. Until 1914 it was called Ayasoluk a name now exclusively used for the local hill - a corruption of the Greek: 'Agios Theologos' referring to the putative burial place of the St John.
Again Wendy had found a very good hotel - booked on-line before leaving OZ - that offered free parking for the car. It's up a steep hill about a kilometre from the Selçuk town centre and we had a large, well appointed, modern, room with panoramic views across the pool towards the town. The only downside to staying at 'Nea Efessos' is that it's quite isolated and guests definitely need a car or to continuously use a taxi to get around.
Nea Efessos Hotel - Selçuk
Across town from the hotel is Ayasoluk Hill topped by the imposing Grand Fortress of Selçuk. Built by the Byzantines, it's more impressive outside than in, where original Christian buildings have been modified and/or destroyed and are largely in ruins.
Grand Fortress of Selçuk
In addition to the Roman aqueduct, that bisects the down-town area, Selçuk has remnants of a much more ancient past.
The Byzantine Aqueduct - Selçuk - a good place to have dinner.
A spot on the town's edge has been identified as the site of the one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Temple of Artemis here was so impressive that it rivalled the Great Pyramid and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Artemis is the Greek goddess of fertility; the hunt; wild animals; and the Moon. The Temple of Artemis is referred to in the Bible (KJV) to as the 'Temple of Diana', her Roman form.
These many boobed statues are from the Temple of Artemis - now in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selçuk
They depict the goddess of fertility - Artemis against whom St Paul railed (Acts 19:11-41)
These are unusual as she is more often depicted as a beautiful maiden holding a bow and accompanied by a hunting dog.
Unlike Mohammad's one God, Jesus' Trinity, or even Abraham's Yahweh, Artemis has a continuous pedigree going back at least nine thousand years, making her one of the oldest of human deities. As the goddess of fertility she's also the goddess of childbirth and midwifery, the custodian of the secret women's business. In her name were maintained places of childbirth where virgin acolytes and priestesses cared for the pregnant and went out to supervise and assisted at the birth - no men allowed. Modern commentators often refer to images of them as: 'Nuns of Artemis'. Think: 'Call The Midwife'.
Prayers were offered to her and material gifts of clothing were made to her handmaidens. Failure to do these things correctly could lead to a miscarriage or death as a result of pregnancy, unfortunately a relatively frequent occurrence until quite recently.
Soon Artemis would come under attack from the disciples of a new religion, Christianity. Paul, the biblical author, tells us (Acts 19:11-41) that he spent some time in Ephesus where on one occasion two of his disciples were taken by the crowd to the theatre that was filled with an unruly gathering of the supporters of Artemis (Diana). Later (1 Timothy 2:15), he tells us that deaths during childbirth are due to immodesty - like inappropriate dress - or perhaps to shrewishness - failure to be dutiful to one's husband.
They're not a result of insufficient obeisance to Artemis? No way! Mankind really needs to get our act together on which gods do what. I mean, ten thousand years of useless prayers!
After the adoption of Christianity as the one and only Roman religion in 380 CE, by the Emperor Theodosius, the persecution of the pagan religions began in earnest, reaching its height late in the fourth century. In 391 the Vestal Virgins were disbanded, and access to pagan temples was prohibited. Thus closed and in ruins, in 532 the Temple of Artemis was plundered for some of its columns to build the Hagia Sophia (see above); and other stones to build nearby fortifications. By the 6th Century it had completely disappeared.
The site was rediscovered by a team of British archaeologists in the 1870's and its location is now marked by a single column consisting of a few remnants (that you can just see in the distance behind the mosque on Ayasoluk hill in the photograph below).
But a number of objects found on the site are in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selçuk and others are in the British Museum in London.
Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selçuk
In its shadow, to the south, lie the ruins of the (6th Century) Basilica of St John on the site where St John (John the Evangelist - author of the Gospel according to St John) or perhaps John the Divine (the author of Revelations) was entombed. St John is said to have requested that he be buried on Ayasoluk hill.
A seemingly authoritative local history of the Basilica asserts that: 'He [St John] died around 100 AD and was buried on Ayasoluk Hill. Initially, there was a commemorative plaque on his grave. In the 4th century AD, it was encased in a chapel with a wooden roof. In the 6th century AD, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian ordered the construction of a huge basilica on this site. As the model for the builders served the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.'
By the 5th century the small chapel over his tomb had become the focus of the early 'Cult of St John' and one of the principal sites of early Christian pilgrimage. It was revered for its healing dust, possibly 'in the light' of John 9:6-7 where Jesus makes a paste of spit and dust to cure a man blind since birth.
Around the 2nd Century the 'Acts of John' had begun circulating that, among other miracles, claimed that John had destroyed the Temple of Artemis and converted Cleopatra to Christianity (total nonsense).
It was said that St John was not dead but sleeping beneath his tomb. Each time he breathed the dust around his altar swirled, giving it mystical powers. Because of this, the dust: The Manna of Saint John, was said to be able to cure the sick. Flasks of his manna circulated around Medieval Christendom and were highly prized for their curative properties. The British Museum has at least one, fond near Ephesus, in its collection.
By 527, when Byzantine Emperor Justinian I came to power, the small chapel 'was in a ruined condition because of its great age' so Justinian ordered the construction of the huge and more appropriate 'Basilica of St. John' over the tomb.
The ruins of the Basilica of St. John on Ayasoluk hill - Selçuk
When the tomb was found to be empty it was revealed that John had been 'Assumed', lifted to heaven while still alive. The Orthodox Church celebrates this miracle on 8 May each year.
Just which St John was buried here is open to conjecture.
Church tradition has it that St John, the contemporary disciple of Jesus, was the son of St Mary Salome who was sister to the Virgin Mary and thus a first cousin to Jesus. He was also the first disciple of John the Baptist. It is asserted that John spent the last years of his life in Ephesus in companionship with his aunt Mary (the mother of Jesus) during which time he wrote his Gospel.
Modern textual analysis attributes the New Testament to six principal authors: those of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke); the author of John's Gospel; the author known as St Paul; and the writer known as John the Divine. Alternatively, like Shakespeare, others of same names. Yet despite obvious differences in style, subject and content, some early theologians held that John the Evangelist and John the Divine were one and the same. So at different times both have been associated with this grave.
That this grave is that of the author of John's Gospel, accords with the date of 100 CE. Modern biblical scholars put its authorship after 75 CE, due to references to contemporary history, and possibly up to two decades later. But as this would make John well over 100 years old and Mary even older, it is not clear that this is John the cousin of Jesus, nor that the Mary, with whom he lived, was Mary the mother of Jesus, who is also said to have been 'Assumed' - at a time when she remained beautiful.
Although we've visited several Cathedrals named for Mary's Assumption, usually with a painting, presumably from a place not far from here (see Mary's House below), it's not everyone's metaphysical taste, as we've also visited Mary's tomb at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Top left: 'The Assumption' - Peter Paul Rubens - The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium - Brussels
Top right: Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Zagreb
Bottom: The contradictory Tomb of Mary at the foot of the Mount of Olives - Jerusalem (all my photos - different trips)
Building of 'the most magnificent Basilica in Christendom' over John's tomb began in 548 and was completed by 565 (15 years after Hagia Sophia). At this time Ephesus was already in decline and Ayasoluk hill was fortified as it was increasingly vulnerable to raiders. From the impregnable Byzantine fortress on the summit defensive walls swept down encompassing the Basilica so that the hill consisted of a citadel with the castle as an upper castle and the area with the basilica as a lower castle. The citadel walls were 1.5 km around with 17 towers. (source: Byzantine Military)
The fortifications encompassing the Basilica withstood a series of raids but in the 14th century Ephesus fell to the Seljuk Turks and the Basilica briefly served as a mosque, until one of God's numerous earthquakes reduced it to rubble.
During Ottoman rule it was largely forgotten until archaeological investigations began in modern times. In the 16th century John's Cult was largely forgotten too, surpassed by the vastly superior 'Cult of Mary'.
Yet the defensive Fortress with its vistas, across ancient Ephesus and the land that was once the harbour, still dominates the town and the gate in the ancient wall, through which visitors pass, still stands. There is also an historic mosque on the hill that at one time was renowned for its beauty. Unfortunately it was under renovation and closed.
More views from Ayasoluk hill - Selçuk
Across the land that was once Ephesus Harbour and the historic mosque
behind which can be seen, in the distance, the column marking the site of the Temple of Artemis
The ancient Greco-Roman city of Ephesus ranks with Pompeii and Santorini (Thera) as examples of the world's best preserved ancient cities. All three are subject to on-going archaeological excavation and investigation but unlike the other two Ephesus was not buried alive by a volcano but simply abandoned when it was then partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614 CE and its harbour was then allowed to silt-up. In that respect it has echoes of Petra in Jordan that was simply abandoned due to climate change. The ruins are now eight and a half km inland, separated from the sea by a large area of flat, apparently productive, agricultural land where once the ancient harbour held hundreds of ships at anchor.
I've been here before - over thirty years ago. That time I was on a cruise ship so I'd recently been to Santorini. Ephesus was less impressive, both by comparison and because it was less excavated than it is today. Back then there was no public access to the Terrace Houses, as we'd seen on Santorini, just a large crane in my photos, that suggested that something was going on. Now the Terrace Houses can be visited under a huge semi-transparent roof.
On the other hand it was a lot less busy back then as virtually all the tourists were from our ship. We had the place to ourselves. This time we certainly didn't have it to ourselves.
Hadrian's Library (left 1988 - right 2019)
The Large Amphitheatre (left 1988 - right 2019)
The crane over the Terrace Houses in 1988 - these are off to the left in the 2019 photo
The highlights of Ephesus include 'Hadrian's Library' - he certainly got around - and the afore mentioned Terrace Houses. Six of these were somehow buried and thus preserved, perhaps by a landslide, and excavations began in the 1960's.
Built on steeply sloping land at the end of the 1st Century BCE they had two storeys, with living and dining rooms downstairs and bedrooms upstairs. Clay pipes beneath the floors and behind the walls carried hot air through the houses from a Roman style furnace. So that they also had bathrooms and hot and cold running water. They were used as dwellings for several centuries before their demise, so the wall decorations we see here are not the original. Yet some of the floor mosaics may be. When discovered they were called: 'the houses of the rich' but as these six are the only survivors, who knows what the other dwellings were like? There are bigger mansions at Pompeii so these could be quite modest.
Today townhouses like these would be middle class. A comfortable society, unless you were a slave. Yet it's days were numbered as their world was soon to be unsettled by: natural disasters; climate change; technological advance; and social and religious revolution.
The Terrace Houses spacious rooms with tiled floors and plastered and decorated walls
they had in floor heating and plumbing - bottom right is a bath.
They've been under cover and available to the public since 1999.
As I mentioned above, these Terrace Houses are strikingly similar to houses excavated in remnants of ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri on Santorini, less than 300 km away by sea. Those too are two storey with: wall frescos; mosaic floors; plumbing; and heating and are in similar condition having been buried by the eruption of the Thera volcano that destroyed much of the Santorini settlement and half the island.
That eruption was one of the most massive in recorded history and had huge impacts on the whole Mediterranean region. So it's of great interest to many disciplines, from historians and archaeologists, to earth scientists, for whom the date is critical to other liked events. As a result they disagree on the actual year. But most now agree that it was somewhere between 1600 and 1525 BCE.
Suffice it to say that the discovery of houses like these, buried beneath volcanic ash nearly four thousand years ago, revealed that the Ancient Minoans were much more socially advanced than the Ancient Greeks of the same period, on whom historians had previously relied for knowledge about Minoan culture.
That of course leads to the question: what metaphysical beliefs were contributing to this society's obvious success? And the answer is: we don't really know because their writing has not yet been deciphered. So most of what we know about them is from their quite prolific and beautiful art. But we do know that they were polytheistic and most of their deities were female. Perhaps one was a version of Artemis who has also been associated with the Amazons.
At Ephesus there is also a very large but still partly ruined amphitheatre (the one mentioned in the Bible) that has restoration work underway in addition to: public toilets; the inevitable brothel, like those at Pompeii but relatively boring having no surviving images, except for markings in the street pointing the way for sailors; a large number of fallen columns; and the footprints ruined domestic, commercial and religious buildings.
The large amphitheatre; the public toilet; and at the other end of the city the small amphitheatre
It's a big site and there is a lot more as yet unearthed in the surrounding fields.
It requires at least half a day, to walk around it all.
There is very little shade and we were well advised to take umbrellas (portable shade-providers - from the Italian ombrella, the diminutive of ombra: ‘shade’) along with a water bottle. Good tips - should you wish to visit.
Take a water bottle and an umbrella - mine is on the ground near my feet
Adjacent to the present Ephesus car park is another group of ruins that include the apse and pillars that remain of the Ancient Church of Mary. Archaeologists have determined that the church was built over an older Roman temple to the cult of Hadrian (him again), and to have been later expanded.
The ancient Church of Mary c.431 visited by Pope Paul VI in 1967
The church is thought to have been built for the 'Council of Ephesus' (the Third Ecumenical Council of 431) that was held to resolve a doctrinal dispute: was Mary was the mortal mother of Jesus, the man who later became one with God or was Mary the mother of God? With the aid of the same Holy Spirit that guides them to a new Pope the bishops declared Mary 'Theotokos' - the God-bearer - the mother of God.
A plaque records the 1967 visit of Pope Paul VI who held a mass here
Opponents of the Mother of God position argued that this introduced a paradox - how could Mary be the mother of her maker? It seems a valid argument to us, except that 'mother' had a different meaning to the ancients. For them a woman was the 'nurturer' of the man's seed, that had been implanted by the man and given the 'spark of life' by God at conception, a process in which she played no material part, except to provide nurture: the fluids necessary for survival and growth. A child was related by nature only to his/her father.
Thus Mary as 'Nurturer of God' seemed perfectly rational to men who had no realisation that an ova from the mother, that must be alive, merges with man's living sperm. Today, every informed person knows from the IVF procedure alone (if such confirmation was required) that life is already evident in both components and does not begin anew. We also know that both parents, their parents and their parents parents, and so on, according to generation, are roughly equal contributors to the new 'randomly combined' blastocyst that grows into a child.
There are other interesting outcomes of this ancient misconception, like patrilineal inheritance. One of these is the Messianic prophecy of the Jewish Bible- particularly Ezekiel 37:24.
In order for Jesus to be the prophesied Jewish Messiah he had to be a 'Son of [King] David' - born into the House of David. Thus both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are at pains to assert that Joseph was descended from King David (Matthew 1- 'The genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham' - and again in Luke 3:23-38 - by a totally different line).
As they were ignorant of reproductive biology, these genealogies are all male: 'sons of', all the way down, until Joseph, when the line is inexplicably broken by a virgin birth.
Like Mary as 'Theotokos' her virginity was probably retrospectively added by early editors (Luke 1:34-37) after Jesus was declared the son of God in John's Gospel - else why did the original author of Luke bother with the elaborate genealogy of Joseph two chapters later?). The only other reference to Mary's virginity, in the Bible, (expressed as her innocence of apparent premarital sex, revealed in a dream) is in Matthew - also probably retrospectively added - given the original author's similarly elaborate genealogy.
Yet, in the light of modern reproductive knowledge, we know that we each have four grandparents; eight great grandparents; and so on. After 26 generations since King David (Matt 1:1-17) Mary, like Joseph and everyone, had around 67 million ancestors - obviously these millions of ancestors are not unique - many are the same person by different lines. So in a small isolated community like the Jews everyone eventually becomes distantly related to everyone else. But Matthew's 26 generations are insufficient to account for the actual time back to the historical King David. Luke fixes this by increasing it to 41 generations. This results in around 2 trillion ancestors. Thus Mary was just as likely to be related, by many thousands of lines, to King David as was Joseph - as indeed was anybody born in the region - and by now - you and me too. So the old biblical problem is solved: Jesus was related to David whether Joseph was his father or not.
The 'Cult of Mary' gained new predominance in the 16th century due to a post-Lutheran need to distinguish Catholics from Protestants. This sectarian rift was soon deepened with the adoption of the 'Rosary' for Marian Prayers (anathema to Protestants as contrary to scripture) and then by 'Marian Apparitions'.
Mary had appeared to some of the faithful since the early days of the Church, yet not a lot had been made of these 'apparitions'. But in in 1531, ten years after the excommunication of Martin Luther, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a converted Indian (indigenous person) in Mexico and, after an initial doubt, the miracle was confirmed by the local Bishop.
The miraculously created Our Lady of Guadalupe icon
in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City (my photos from 2012)
Mary appeared again in 1608, this time holding the baby Jesus, at Šiluva in Lithuania, on the site of buried documents that showed that land, now claimed by Calvinists, rightfully belonged to Catholics.
Soon the Roman Inquisition endorsed several other apparitions, some historic. While Protestants looked on incredulous more apparitions followed. Now over thirty Marian Apparitions, many quite recent like Lourdes (1858/1862) and Fátima (1917/1930) have been verified by the Inquisition to further fortify the faithful. They mostly occur in Catholic and, to a lesser extent, Coptic communities around the world and have been increasing in frequency - many of them last century.
Notwithstanding Mary's affiliations with Ephesus, unsurprisingly, none of these sightings had been in Muslim Turkey.
This would soon be remotely rectified. Around 1819 the visionary and stigmatist Saint Anna Katharina Emmerick wrote, as a result of a vision in her cell in Germany, that Mary had lived out her mortal life with St John at Ephesus in a forest house in a remote mountainous spot, near a holy spring.
From her description the spot was found in 1881. It was 7 km out of Selçuk in the forest up a steep, winding, mountainous track.
The House of the Virgin Mary
While several of the Saint's visions, that include unicorns that survived the Flood in the Himalayas, are dismissed, this holy site has been given credibility by several Papal visits, including those of Paul VI in 1967 (see above); John Paul II and Benedict XVII (Ratzy).
When we likewise graced the small chapel, that now stands on the site, there was a plastic wizard (from Harry Potter?) standing on the altar. I was offended - one can't go around mixing religious icons like that! I said as much to the woman guarding the chapel against illicit photography. She refused to remove it. So I found a young priest outside and explained the outrage. He rushed to fix it and subsequently came up to me full of thanks, having removed the offending icon. My good deed for the day!
But I did wonder aloud, when descending the precipitous winding road, how the elderly John and Mary fed themselves in such a remote and rocky place - perhaps John was a hunter? At least Snow White had the dwarves to go to the market for flour; and an occasional visit from an old woman carrying fruit.
Kuşadası is a half hour drive from Selçuk, on quite a good road, peppered with speed cameras. It has an attractive Corniche and a variety of markets from: 'designer' outlets to a large tourist trap near the port.
Kuşadası in 1988 (top left) and now
I was here on a cruise ship in 1988 when I took the (older) photo above. While most of Ephesus from that trip remained quite familiar, I found Kuşadası almost unrecognisable.
One thing I did remember was buying 'Lacoste' or 'low-cost' T-shirts in Kuşadası that lasted quite well. So history repeats itself, as you can see if you look carefully in Ephesus above.
And markets being markets we had to make a second trip from Selçuk, on our way to Pamukkale.
The modern Turkish town of Pamukkale is on the plane below a ridge out of which seeps mineral-rich water that has been heated by volcanism and dissolved the limestone through which it flows. Just as in a limestone cave the dissolved calcium carbonate is gradually deposited and crystallised into travertine. On the ridge above Pamukkale there have been upwards of 18 hot springs pouring supersaturated water over the hillside for hundreds of millennia so that pools similar to those seen in caves but on a much larger scale have created terraces and ponds that have attracted people for at least 3,000 years.
This phenomenon is not unique to this location. There are at least a dozen similar travertine terraces around the world but because of variation in location and circumstance each is unique in its size shape and extent.
The first recorded settlement here was established around the 7th century BCE but it was the Romans who built the spa town of Hierapolis on the ridge above the cascades. The Romans famously had a 'thing' for marble and hot water.
After nearly three thousand years the greatest attraction at Hierapolis continues to be walking barefoot on the adjoining hillside, sometimes up to the knees, in puddles of mineral-rich thermal waters that flow down white travertine terraces. We found it rough underfoot and quite uncomfortable and didn't last long. But for many, judging by the jostling, selfy-taking, picture-posing, multitude, it's one of those 'things you have to do before you die'. Unfortunately millions of oily feet began to discolour the travertine. So the present limited watercourse, accessible for public puddling, is quite narrow and unpleasantly overcrowded.
The travertine terraces
As advertised, it's visually spectacular and this one is unique in the world. Yet I was disappointed. I'd, unreasonably, expected it to be a lot bigger - something like Cappadocia. A moment's thought in advance should have told me otherwise. The terraces stem from a single limestone deposit. Seen from above in Google Earth there are two linked fans of travertine spreading like butterfly wings below the springs and a third smaller area, some distance along the ridge.
Our pleasant hotel was a little out of town, but within walking distance to the decorative lake below the main cascade, complete with ice-cream vendors; paddle boats; turtles; and water birds. The latter not to Wendy's liking. Yet we walked there, back and forth, a couple of times; then drove up to Hierapolis.
In its day Hierapolis was a popular Roman resort and retirement location. The Miami of its day. Many Romans chose to have their bodies stored here after their brain had ceased to function and was thus devoid of any further sensory input - id est [i.e] they had died. Thus the site is remarkable for the number of sarcophagi that are still scattered about, these days empty, except, perhaps, for dust.
Again it brought to those lines of Byron's from Don Juan, quoted above: not a pinch of dust remains of Cheops.
In due course Hierapolis attracted the interest of that consummate builder the Emperor Hadrian who added one of the best preserved/restored Roman Amphitheatres we've seen. And we've now seen quite a few.
The Amphitheatre at Hierapolis
For a period in modern times Hierapolis had resort hotels built over the ancient ruins but these have since been demolished and the city is being restored as World Heritage Site. Yet, compared to Ephesus, the remains are rather sparse these days.
There is now a museum presenting some of the objects found here that is quite interesting.
I was intrigued by this section of a frieze - presumably from a smashed sarcophagus - apparently depicting a suckling child and a goat. Was this the ancients' alternative to a bottle? Alongside, the efficacy of a toga, as a means of protecting one's modesty, is called into question, as in Antalya (above).
Once away from the tourist spots, the modern town at the foot of the hill, is semi-rural and quite shabby. It was an unfortunate last stop in otherwise seemingly prosperous Turkey.
At the end of our last night in Turkey we drove the 70 km to Denizli Airport where we dropped the trusty Ford in the, at that time, unattended car-park and joined an early morning flight to Skopje for our next adventure: another drive further up the Adriatic coast, all the way to Vienna in Austria, through the Balkans.
See the full photograph album of images from Turkey